In the late 1600s, tomatoes started traveling from the Andes. Although it was considered as an ornamental food in Europe for several centuries, this crop has become a favorite worldwide and can now be found in every grocery, market, restaurants.
Along with potatoes, eggplants, and bell peppers, tomatoes are a member of the Nightshade family and these fruits come in various colors like red, yellow, green, pink, orange, etc.
Their popularity due to the sweet, tangy to smokey flavor makes a huge deal for being a favorite crop all over the world. Even though tomatoes are hugely popular and very easy to find, consumers find it a little difficult to choose a good quality tomato.
For this reason, while selecting a proper method of crop cultivation, you need to know about certain factors like pH, temperature, humidity, etc.
In this article, we will follow up on “How to Grow Tomatoes Indoors from seeds?”
Furthermore, we can entitle the whole chapter as “How to Grow Tomatoes Indoors hydroponically?”
Several Cultivation Styles
The cultivation technique of tomatoes is very simple just like their abundance. There are two varieties of the cultivation technique. They are
These varieties are very hard to manage. These are well cultured in the greenhouse floor which has a tendency to sprawl and makes it difficult to grow in a trellis. Hence, the cultivators find it difficult to reach the fruits or prune the plants or navigate the greenhouse.
These varieties are preferred over the bush varieties because the plants can be clipped to a leader and can be trellised using a leaner and lower system. This method is much faster to cultivate and easier as well.
As fruiting crops, tomatoes hog all types of nutrients, and for this, proper conditions should be maintained like- Electrical Conductivity, pH range, temperature, etc.
Problems With Tomato Culture And Troubleshooting
The problem with tomato culture is that these fruits are very vulnerable to a broad range of pests like a mosaic virus or diseases like spider mites and aphid or fungal attacks of fusarium wilt or verticillium.
For this reason, during buying the seeds, make sure to read the “VFN” label properly. This label depicts the level of resistance of these crops towards foreign pests or fungicides.
To avoid this disease progression, hydroponic methods of tomato culture is very effective.
While choosing a crop set, you need to check crops with overlying EC, Ph, and temperature preferences. To grow tomatoes hydroponically, these are the factors that should be chosen with optimum evaluation.
What is Hydroponics?
Hydroponic gardening is a straightforward way of growing crops without the additional element of soil or any substrate related to soil.
The amount of manual labor involved is also very less as compared to conventional methods. In this way of gardening, a concentrated solution of nutrients and minerals is applied to the roots of the plants directly.
Light-weighted plants like tomato plants grow their roots in the solution directly.
How to Grow Tomatoes Indoors Hydroponically
This technique is based upon the fact no soil is required and tomatoes are grown in a hydroponic solution where the crops are placed in a non-soil medium.
Here the roots are given support and these can suck up the nutrients from the medium.
This allows the tomatoes to grow in a sustained environment with a very less chance of being affected by diseases, helps them to grow faster, and yields juicy and fleshy fruits which are very tasty.
If you want to know how to grow tomatoes hydroponically, please follow the procedures mentioned below.
STEP-1: SETTING UP THE SYSTEM
- TYPE OF THE SYSTEM: There are different varieties of hydroponics system and in any of the systems, tomatoes grow very abundantly. Out of these systems, ebb and flow system is the easiest and cheapest and so a great option for cultivating tomatoes. This is also known as the flood and drain system because it floods the plants with a nutrient solution from which it drains when it is only two inches from top of the vessel. In any hydroponics store, you can buy a kit which contains all the necessary equipment for ebb and flow cultivation. You can also purchase separate components and set it up. But before setting up, clean everything very thoroughly.
Some alternative methods are-
- Deep water culture: Used to cultivate cherry tomatoes
- Multi flow: Large version of ebb and flow which relies on gravity.
- Nutrient Film Technique or NFT: This method is a little more fastidious and expensive but preferred when grown commercially.
- SUITABLE LOCATION: Hydroponic systems are required to be controlled and grown in a sustained environment to function properly and this can only occur in indoor or greenhouse. For this, these should be stored in a closed room away from outside which allows you to regulate the temperate and set the humidity in an accurate level needed for the best growth. It is possible to grow these tomatoes using a natural light but the system should be kept under a glass covering like a greenhouse roof which isn’t open to the air.
- USING A RESERVOIR: A plastic container should be used which prevents growth of algae by restricting the light from the environment. Large reservoir provides a stable and successful hydroponic system. For this purpose, you can use a bucket or a trash can. This should be lightly scrubbed with soapy water and rinsed thoroughly to prevent contamination. Rainwater is better suited than tap water which has a possibility of being hard.
- FIXING A TRAY: The tray will work as a support to your tomato plants where it will periodically flood it with sufficient nutrients and water that the tomato roots will absorb. Place the reservoir higher so that it allows the excess amount of water to be drained down but it should be sturdy to hold up your plants. These trays are built of plastics but not metal which might corrode and affect the plants.
- PUMP INSTALLATION: Purchase a water pump at a store of hydroponics or you can also use a fountain pump. You need to find a pump which is strong enough to send water from the reservoir to the tray which contains the plants. This pump needs to be powerful and adjustable with the settings you have done for the system
- INSTALLATION OF FILL TUBING: A fill tubing is required to be placed between the reservoir and the tray. Use a half inch PVC tube between the pump and the tray which can be flooded to the level of the tomato roots. Don’t forget to position the pipes at opposite side of the tray so that water circulation can be provided.
- OVERFLOW LEADING BACK TO RESERVOIR: Join another PVC tube to the tray with an overflow fitting which is placed at a level in the bottom of the roots. When the water comes to the same level, it will drain back through the tube and then into the reservoir. The overflow tube must be larger in diameter than the inlet tube of the pump to avoid flooding.
- ATTACHMENT OF TIMER: An adjustment should be set to increase or decrease the amount of nutrients provided on the plant’s life. A heavy-duty timer with waterproof cover is preferred. If you face any trouble then ask the manufacturer.
- TESTING THE SYSTEM: To test the system, first you need to turn on the pump and check of the water goes. Adjust the tray if there is any excess water. When you have set the water to correct strength, check the timer if the pump is set at specific times.
STEP-2: GROWING THE TOMATOES
- SPECIAL MEDIUM: You should plant your seeds in a nursery tray with special types of growth medium except for ordinary soil for optimum crop culture. The notable growing materials are-
- Coconut coir
- INTRODUCTION OF ARTIFICIAL LIGHT: Once the plants sprout, get rid of the covering and put the seedlings under a light source for atleast 12 hours a day. Incandescent light source should be considered as the last option. Make sure to not allow the light shine on the roots because it can cause damage.
- MOVE SEEDLINGS INTO THE SYSTEM: Wait till the first leaf is produced and the roots start to penetrate from the tray bottom. This process usually takes ten to fourteen days. In ebb and flow system, you can place in the tray but for other system, the crops need to be set in a rack along a specific slope so that the roots can suck up the nutrients.
- WATER PUMP TIMER: The timer should be set for 30 minutes every 2.5 hrs. the plants are required to be monitored meticulously and water frequency should be regulated.
- SETTING ARTIFICIAL LIGHTS: The tomatoes are needed to be exposed in optimum conditions like artificial light for effective yield. After keeping them for 16 hours (12 being minimum) turn it odd and let these sit in darkness for the rest of the time. The plants will grow in a slower pace if you rely on sunlight.
- PRUNING OF TALL PLANTS: Staking and pruning is very important for better growth of plants. If your plants grow indefinitely stake out the larger stems and even for determinate plants, prune the plants or else there might be a risk of lower yields.
- POLLINATION OF TOMATO PLANT BLOSSOMS: Since there are no insects for pollination, you need to do it. When the petals are exposed to pollens, use a paint brush and dust it off gently and repeat every day.
STEP-3: CREATING GROWTH ENVIRONMENT
- TEMPERATURE CONTROL: The required temperature for optimum growth is 18 to 24 degree Celsius in the morning and 12.8 to 18.3 degree Celsius at night. The temperature should be monitored regularly as it impacts the tomatoes’ life cycle. Proper attention is required to regulate temperature of the growth solution.
- RUNNING A FAN: An exhauster fan is very effective to control an even temperature throughout the room. This air flow also contributes to pollination.
- ADDITION OF NUTRIENT SOLUTION: A special type of solution is prepared for this hydroponic system. Avoid organic solutions which has a good chance of decomposing. Focus on a growth focus formula at first and then switch to a bloom formula.
- pH TEST: The appropriate pH range is 5.8 to 6.3 for optimum yield. It can be adjusted using acidic or basic solutions to the reservoir.
- INSTALLATION OF GRIWTH LIGHTS: Artificial lights can increase your yield which allows you to induce an ideal growth condition. Metal halide lamps are the ideal option because it can stimulate sunlight accurately. Other available lights are fluorescent, LED or sodium lights.
- REGULAR MONITORING: EC meter or Electrical Conductivity meter is very necessary to measure the concentration of nutrients in water which helps to monitor the whole process effectively.
- CHANGING WATER AND NUTRIENT SOLUTION REGULARLY: If water level drops, you can add more water but don’t add more nutrients. If your plants don’t look healthy enough empty the whole reservoir, rinse a support material, fill it with water and new nutrients and make sure to balance the pH and monitor the process again.
This is all about how to grow tomatoes hydroponically.
PROS AND CONS OF HYDROPONICS:
Like any other methods, there are many costs and benefits to growing crops hydroponically. The pros include:
- High Growth Rate: The rate of plant growth exceeds by almost 30-50% when they are grown hydroponically as opposed to when they are grown traditionally using soil. This is because the optimum conditions required for their growth are provided.
- Greater Production Yield: The favorable conditions guarantee an almost three to ten times higher production yield as compared to normal methods.
- Growth is cleaner: Since there is no involvement of soil, it is a much tidier and easy to manage method of growing tomatoes, especially at home. It is less messy and way more sanitary.
- Flexibility of season: Since the conditions can be controlled artificially, these plants can be grown any time of the year at all seasons.
- More water efficient: This method is approximately 90% more efficient in conserving water than normal soil-methods.
- Location: Since they can be grown almost anywhere and do not require soil, they save a lot of land.
However, there are certain drawbacks too:
- Investment: This is a way more costly method of growing plants as the system setup costs more.
- Lesser margin for error: The pH, concentration of nutrients, water content, everything has to be kept at an optimum. The slightest change could result in a failed crop yield